Next Step for France’s New President: Consolidating Power
Winning the French presidency was step one for Emmanuel Macron. Step two is nailing down the parliamentary majority France’s youngest-ever president needs to be effective. That happens in legislative elections that promise a monumental shake-up of the National Assembly and the consolidation of Macron’s grip on France’s levers of power.
Not only is the two-round vote, this Sunday and next, expected to install hundreds of new faces in the 577-seat lower house, but many will likely be first-time lawmakers, making good on Macron’s campaign promises to take a broom to established, old-style politics.
Half of the candidates for Macron’s fledgling Republic on the Move! party have, like him, never previously held elected office. They include an award-winning mathematician, a former female bullfighter and the ex-head of an elite French police unit that took down an Islamic State cell, among others.
With pollsters projecting a possibly dominant majority for Macron’s camp, the election could add real clout to the measured and studied air of authority the 39-year-old has cultivated in his presidential role since the very first minutes of his May 7 victory.
Much of Macron’s early muscle-flexing has been symbolic, most notably his knuckle-whitening handshake with U.S. President Donald Trump — aimed, the French leader later said, at showing that he is no pushover.
But a large, compliant majority in parliament would arm Macron with the actual power to quickly start legislating and launch his promised program of remedies for the persistent, chronic unemployment and other economic difficulties that have sapped France’s weight in Europe. He intends to speedily reform France’s labor codes, aiming to create work by injecting greater flexibility into the labor market and by boosting job-training.
Battered by the electorate that gave Macron a comfortable winning margin over far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the presidential vote, his weakened political rivals fear that another surge of support for the president’s candidates in the legislative ballot could make him almost untouchable and limit their tools and abilities to keep his ambitions and legislative program in check.
Political scientist Dominique Moisi says the legislative election is a “decisive piece” in the consolidation of Macron’s presidency. When the former banker and economy minister launched his wild-card bid for the presidential Elysee Palace in 2016, challenging the monopoly on power of France’s established parties on the left and right, his chances of winning the succession of presidential and legislative votes looked remote-to-nil. Now, Macron’s gamble is close to paying out in full, and the mainstream parties are in disarray.
“He’s on course to be a new De Gaulle if he makes the reforms he wants to,” Moisi said, referring to the hugely respected founding father of modern France, wartime hero Gen. Charles de Gaulle. “There is a risk that he will have too much authority given the fact that he has some sort of authoritarian personality in him. But that is what France needs right now.”
For Macron’s rivals, the election is their last best chance to clip his wings for the next five years until the next electoral cycle. Le Pen is hoping the record support for her National Front in the presidential vote will translate into more seats in parliament than the two held by the party in the last legislature. Similarly, far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon also is banking that his strong fourth place in the presidential ballot will help secure legislative seats for himself and his candidates.
The left and right mainstream parties, the Socialists and conservative Republicans, are hoping to limit their losses, having been spectacularly sanctioned by voters in the presidential vote. For the first time, neither of them made the decisive May runoff vote that was contested between Macron and Le Pen.
To win in the first round Sunday, candidates must win an absolute majority of votes cast and the support of at least 25 percent of registered voters in their constituency. Otherwise, the contest moves to the second-round vote the following Sunday.